Summer internships are here! If you have scored one of the coveted slots, you are probably excited and nervous at the same time. The interviews may have addressed what it will be like, but you never really know until you are there. If you have already started, you may be feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the protocol still.
If this is you, I encourage you to take a deep breath. Whether you are loving your internship or are off to a tenuous start, read on for summer internship advice on how to get the most out of the experience.
1. Know what you want to get out of it.
Clarity on what you are hoping to get out of this experience will go a long way towards focusing your mental game and your efforts during the summer. Perhaps you want a glimpse of what it is like to work in the area you are studying. Maybe you hope to network and meet professionals who can help you connect to your dream job, or make some money. Be honest with yourself about why you are there.
2. Mingle and network!
Whether you are the life of a party or prefer quiet observation from the sidelines, being in a professional environment is a fantastic opportunity to network. Don't just stick with other interns – I know they are fun and easy to relate to, but venture out into the halls and meet other people. Ask them for internship advice, offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for a 20 minute chat, and learn as much as you can.
3. Dress appropriately.
This should go without saying, but dress professionally for the environment you are in. Even if you are stuck in the office all day making photocopies, look as if you are planning to shadow a partner into a client meeting (it just might happen!). The best suggestion I ever heard on dressing appropriately was from a wonderful HR professional who was running my intern orientation at Ernst & Young. Her advice? If you look at yourself in the mirror and are not quite sure whether something is appropriate, change.
4. Do your assigned tasks cheerfully and efficiently.
Yes, even the tedious ones. You may be asked to get coffee, make copies, deliver reports, or organize the file room. Hopefully those aren't the only assignments you will get during the summer internship, but when a boring one lands on your desk, pick it up cheerfully and get to it.
The reality of the professional office is, everyone does some admin. You might be feeling a little overqualified for making photocopies, but you know who else is overqualified for that task? Everyone around you. Your professionalism and efficiency in handling simple administrative tasks will pave the way for more interesting projects.
5. If you are underutilized, ask for more work.
Boring work may not be your first choice, but it beats sitting around doing nothing for a long time. The first few hours may be fun, but you will probably feel like you have reached the end of the Internet by the second day. I have a vivid memory of sitting around with nine other interns waiting for assignments for several long days. When one of us finally scored a task of stuffing letters into envelopes, we nearly had a fight over who would get to do it, and ended up splitting the task 10 ways just to have something productive to do.
Learn from my experience and get proactive about asking for work at your summer internship. Sometimes, managers are reluctant to assign you a project because of the learning curve that is involved. Demonstrate that you can pick up concepts quickly, and offer to work with your manager's preference regarding interruptions for questions. Ask about any long-term ongoing projects that would keep you busy for a while.
6. Observe and absorb as much as you can.
Whether you are actively doing something or just shadowing your manager, pay attention to how things are done. You will notice that some of the practices and methods are not what they teach you at school. File away the differences, and practice open-mindedness.
7. Do your best work every time.
No one expects you to do something perfectly the first time you attempt it. That being said, honest diligent effort and willingness to learn from mistakes go a long way. You are being trusted with real projects – what you do will affect many people. Do your best work.
8. If you are unsure, ask.
During your summer internship, you will probably find yourself unsure about how to do something roughly 90% of the time. One of my managers used to joke that there is nothing like a professional internship to make you forget how to write your name! Anticipate that, and get clarity on your manager's preference regarding question timing. Some prefer that you ask as the question occurs to you, others would rather not be interrupted multiple times and will ask you to compile your questions. Remember that your manager is busy, but he does not want you to spin your wheels. This is your opportunity to practice balance and good judgment.
9. Ask for feedback.
You won't get better unless the professionals around you generously offer feedback and suggestions for improvement. Accept feedback graciously, even if it is difficult to hear or poorly delivered. The only appropriate response when someone gives you feedback is, “Thank you.” If you're not receiving feedback, ask for it. Your manager will respect your desire to learn and improve.
10. Act your age.
Which is another way of saying, act professionally. Even if you are going back to school in September, you are in a professional environment for the summer, and a client visiting the office for contract negotiations has no way of knowing whether you are an intern or a full-time staff.
That advice goes for all work functions, both inside and outside the office. Don't be that intern who drank so much that he passed out in front of the elevator during the off site meeting, wearing a hat and a t-shirt with the firm logo. That is a true story, and no, he did not get an offer.
In closing, remember during the good days and the tough ones that this summer internship is an opportunity. Keep your eye on what matters most, and stay in the game. Be polite, be helpful, be the intern that others want to work with. If you love the company, but the internship does not automatically imply a full-time offer, ask about positions. If you learn that your dream job is not so dreamy after all, count that as a useful experience anyway.
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